DAVID’S PERSONAL FAILINGS 2 Samuel 11–14
“I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).The biblical text reports David’s triumphs. But it just as honestly relates his troubles. There is no attempt here, as in other ancient documents, to disguise the human failings of one who was admittedly Israel’s greatest king.
Definition of Key Terms
Hebrew words distinguish between types of sin. Each implies existence of a standard that God has revealed. One Hebrew word pictures sin as falling short of the standard, another as twisting the standard, and a third as willful and rebellious refusal to live by the standard. Psalm 51, which records David’s confession after his sin with Bathsheba, uses each of these Hebrew terms. David’s passion, and his later failures with his family, remind us that all human beings are weak. These very personal stories of David also remind us that sin has tragic consequences. But most important, they teach us that God will provide the forgiveness each of us so often needs.
A study of the text shows that Bathsheba was a victim not a seductress. What is even more terrible, she was the helpless victim of a man whom all Israel had come to know and trust as a godly leader. Yet as we trace the relationship of these two we see that Bathsheba was able to work through the anger she must have felt at being used, to forgive David, and to build a lasting and loving relationship. David’s honest confession of his sin had freed Bathsheba as well as God to forgive. As David was about to die he transferred his kingdom to Solomon, the fourth son Bathsheba bore him, in part to protect her and her children from harm (1 Kings 1:11–31). A Jewish tradition suggests that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31, his praise of the noble wife, in honor of his mother, Bathsheba.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba (11:1–13), and then arranged for the death in battle of her husband (vv. 14–27). When confronted by Nathan the prophet David confessed his sin (12:1–14), but despite David’s prayers the child conceived in adultery died (vv. 15–31). David’s weakness was reflected in his son Amnon, who raped a half sister (13:1–22). The girl’s brother Absalom then killed Amnon (vv. 23–39). Absalom fled, but later this favorite son of David’s was allowed to return to Jerusalem (14:1–33).
Understanding the Text
“David sent messengers to get her” 2 Sam. 11:1–5. The text carefully guards against the impression that Bathsheba intended to seduce David. Note that (1) David should have been at war, (2) he saw her bathing at an hour when everyone should have been asleep, (3) she was seen from the roof. This suggests her home was down the hill from David’s palace, and she was probably bathing in an inner court. (4) She could hardly resist the royal messengers “sent to get her,” and (5) the text says “he” slept with her. Nothing is said in the text to shift any blame from David to Bathsheba. There is no attempt to disguise David’s guilt. It is a tragedy when anyone sins. But if we should sin, we need to be completely honest about what happened. Excuses are no excuse. “Uriah the Hittite” 2 Sam. 11:6–27. Uriah was most likely a mercenary soldier who had joined David, and taken a name which means “Yahweh is my light.” He appears in the text to have been an honorable and dedicated man. When he refused to join Bathsheba at their home (where David intended him to have sex with his wife to mask the fact that Bathsheba was already pregnant), David sent orders to General Joab to see that Uriah was killed in battle. David’s first sin had led to one even worse-cover-up! When Uriah was killed in battle, David openly married Bathsheba. “One sin leads to another” may seem to be a trite saying. But it is true. To be protected from ourselves, we need to guard our hearts against taking that first step away from God’s standards. “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?” 2 Sam. 12:1–13 David was confronted by the Prophet Nathan. In later years, prophets who spoke boldly to Israel’s kings risked death. But David, despite his terrible sins, did love God. Rather than strike out at his accuser, David admitted that he had sinned. Psalm 32 graphically portrays David’s emotions after this great sin. When we are troubled by our misdeeds, only confession can provide relief. Listen to David’s words, and see if they reflect experiences of your own. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”— and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3–5 David did more than confess his sin to Nathan and to God. David wrote Psalm 51, which was used in public worship. The superscription says “A psalm of David. When the Prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” We can confess private sins only to God. But public sins must be confessed to God and before God’s people. “The son born to you will die” 2 Sam. 12:14–31. David was forgiven, but the child born of the adulterous union was to die. That death actually illustrates the grace of God. Growing up, the child would have been a constant reminder to David and Bathsheba of their sin. Even worse, the child himself would have borne publicly the stigma of his parents’ action. David put death itself in perspective when he said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 23). Death is not the end, even for a stillborn child. Life after death is a reality, and there are many situations in which to die is truly gain. The death of any loved one hurts. But what comfort it is for believers to realize that death is not life’s end, but entry into a full experience of that eternal life promised to us in the Lord. “She . . . went away, weeping” 2 Sam. 13:1–19. Amnon’s passion for Tamar changed to hatred after he deceived and raped her. People are more likely to hate someone they have wronged than someone who has wronged them. No one likes to be reminded of his or her faults, and the sight of someone we have wronged keeps our own failures before our eyes. “A desolate woman” 2 Sam. 13:20–22. Note the contrast between this story of Amnon and Tamar and that of David and Bathsheba. In each case the woman was victimized. But David ultimately confessed his sin, while Amnon refused to confess and instead hated (perhaps blamed?) the innocent Tamar. Because David accepted responsibility for his sin, Bathsheba too found inner healing. Because Amnon would not accept responsibility, he was murdered and Tamar was unable to find peace. There is only one healthy way to deal with sin. We must acknowlege our sins, accept responsibility for them, and trust God to forgive us and to undo the harm we have done to others. “Strike Amnon down” 2 Sam. 13:23–39. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, insisted Tamar not mention the rape. For two years he pretended friendship with Amnon, whom he had come to hate. Then he conspired to have Amnon killed. Afterward, fearing the penalty the law established for murder, Absalom fled the country. “Bring back the young man Absalom” 2 Sam. 14:1–33. General Joab devised a fable intended to give David a basis for restoring Absalom. The problem the fable set was a conflict of legal principles: murder deserved the death penalty, yet each family line in Israel must be preserved. When the case was presented to David, he reluctantly decided to protect the killer to preserve the family line. The woman who presented the case then argued that David should permit Absalom to return, suggesting it is godly to devise “ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” David did bring Absalom back to Israel, but could not bring himself to see his son for two more years. The argument that Joab designed was specious in that David had other sons besides Absalom. The two cases were not parallel. David’s delay in seeing Absalom suggests he was not comfortable with his decision. Yet God does devise ways to restore the banished: the way of forgiveness. By failing to forgive fully when Absalom was returned, David himself created a bitterness which found expression in rebellion and civil war.
Furious Parenting (2 Sam. 13–14)
Ken Schaeffer is a success as a parent. His son, also Ken, was valedictorian at a local high school and a National Merit scholar last year. His daughter, Cindy, was valedictorian of her class this year and also a National Merit scholar. Both Ken and Cindy are fine Christian young people. But while Ken is a success as a parent, he doesn’t feel terribly successful otherwise. A fellow graduate of Dallas Seminary, Ken hasn’t lasted in the pastorate, and he’s never been able to make much money. It may be surprising, but often the most successful people when judged by the world’s standards have been terrible parents. And some of the “least successful” have raised children of whom anyone would be proud. David, despite his achieving gold stars as Israel’s greatest king, was a terrible parent. Some of his failures are highlighted in these chapters, and stand as examples you and I are to follow—if we want to ruin the lives of our offspring! What are David’s prescriptions for parental failure? Get mad, but don’t discipline. When David heard what Amnon did to his half sister Tamar, the text says David was “furious” (13:21). But there’s no hint that he even spoke to Amnon, much less disciplined him. Parents who fail to correct their children can expect greater troubles down the line. Love your children too much. After Absalom fled, David “mourned for his son every day.” David seems to have missed his son so much that he lost sight of what his son had done. Boys and girls who are loved so much that “anything goes” are heading for trouble. Forgive, but not completely. David finally permitted Absalom to return to Jerusalem, but would not see him for two full years. If forgiveness is to be granted, it must be complete. Incomplete forgiveness, replete with little reminders of the past sins, creates bitterness and antagonism. When God forgives, He forgets. If we are to forgive a fault, we must do so completely. David, a success in his career, was a failure as a parent. He was upset by what his children did, but did not discipline. He loved his children so much that he lost perspective. And he forgave incompletely. In his family life Israel’s greatest king was one of history’s greatest failures. While my friend Ken Schaeffer, in many ways a failure in his own eyes, is one of history’s great success stories.
We need to give as much or more thought to our parenting as we do to our careers.